Preventing or minimising client induced delay is a common issue from small ‘agile’ IT developments through to multi-$billion mega projects. Whilst this type of delay can never be completely eliminated, they can be reduced by applying a pragmatic six stage approach.
Stage 1: Make sure your needs are known and understood by the client.
The best way to minimise delays is to ensure the client understands not only ‘what’ they are expected to contribute but also ‘why’ it is needed – don’t make the mistake of believing ‘they understand’, just because it is their project. Proactive communications is the key to helping your client better understand their role and the consequences of a delay on their part. Some of the questions you need to answer are:
- Does the client understand the importance of their involvement?
- Does the client really understand the need for timely feedback?
- Do they appreciate the impact to the project if they are late / slow?
- Do they know the dates that they will need to undertake actions so they can plan their work?
You will be surprised how valuable communicating proactively and raising visibility of the potential problems can be; the key is making sure the client develops an understanding of the requirements and the amount of effort needed for them to meet their obligations. This is a form of ‘directed communication’; see: The three types of stakeholder communication.
Stage 2: Schedule the activity and code it up to make extracting focused reports easy.
A vital tool on the communication lexicon is clearly presented schedule information that is relevant to the client. Make sure their work is defied by activities that can be easily pulled into a focused report. Do not use lags on links to allow time for this work – no one is responsible for the ‘lag’.
Stage 3: Regularly status the schedule and communicate the changes to the client.
Having a plan is only part of the power of scheduling. Create a baseline and show the slippage between any current ‘client owned’ activities and the plan. Using unbiased data to highlight issues will change behaviours – no one likes to be seen to be causing delays, particularly the project’s beneficiaries.
Stage 4: Raise a risk for anticipated future delays – manage the risk.
When you have a sense that the client is not going to meet their deadlines raise a risk and look for ways to manage the risk. If possible ask the client to help with the risk mitigation plan, which will give them some buy-in to help you be successful. This type of engagement also helps from a communication standpoint to better manage expectations. See more on risk management.
Stage 5: Raise an issue for an actual delay – manage the issue.
If the client ends up not meeting their dates, you have an issue that needs to be effectively managed. Issues management (problem identification and resolution) needs to be performed. Get your team, management, and stakeholders involved. Ask your manager for their input in resolving the problem that is now impacting your completion date. Get more accountability from your managers and the client’s managers to help resolve project deadline concerns. Your managers and sponsors are also the ones in a position to manage priorities to get the work done. If the problem cannot be resolved perfectly, at least you are continuing to manage expectations. See more on issue management.
Stage 6: Deal with contract issues contemporaneously.
If there is a need to make a contractual claim for the delay, make the claim immediately whilst the cause and effect are easily defined and keep the claim factual If the earlier steps in the process have been followed there will be no surprises and resolution of the issue can be achieved with the minimum of fuss or delay. See more on contractual dispute management.
Client induced delays are best avoided:
- In commercial contracts, the ‘excusable delay’ (EOT) claim will inevitably damage the relationship and cause ill will – the effect of which can outweigh the benefits of the ‘claim’.
- Internal projects don’t have the ‘claims’ option and may appear to be unreasonably held accountable for events and circumstances that are not within their control, but they do have control over the processes used to manage the project.
By utilising disciplined and proactive project management processes, you are more likely to avoid these problems and encourage the client to help you be successful by managing expectations and getting the client to be a part of the solution – not just the problem. It’s really just a case of applied stakeholder management!